Cork native James Whelton and Bill Liao visited the EU Parliament in Brussels last week along with 36 kids to discuss the increasing importance of software education and the need for students to learn to code early. The kids were volunteer students in Whelton’s CoderDojo program, which teaches young kids how to code. Twenty-six of the kids were from Ireland.
Whelton had the idea to start CoderDojo after he became the first person in the world to hack the Apple ipad nano and his friends in school kept asking how he did it. A couple of weeks after completing his Leaving Cert, he teamed with entrepreneur Liao to realize his idea that kids would show up and mentors would help teach them how to code. The first chapter was in Cork, but within weeks there were programmes in Aranmore and off the coast of Donegal and it didn’t stay put in Ireland. There were soon programmes in London and New York. Currently, there are more than 16,000 kids are taught coding at more than 120 dojos in more than 22 countries from LA to Tokyo to Africa and the Caribbean.
The Silicon Republic reported entrepreneur Liao using a Harry Potter metaphor for the kids at the European Parliament saying, “Coding is not our past, it is our future and understanding the language of code is the closest thing to real magic that humanity can produce and if we can start young enough we can create a global resource.” He added that there are so few technology graduates, who are needed to power big businesses like Facebook, Apple, Amazon, and Google, because students are not encouraged to start learning code early enough. The increasing number of young Irish coders could make Ireland a hotspot of technology graduates in the future. Currently, the lack of programmers is an obstacle in Ireland’s road to economic recovery.
The underlying message was that students should start learning coding skills early. MEP Sean Kelly has said that program coding should be included in school curriculum alongside math and reading. He said, “School’s have a busy enough program as it is but it’s about creating the capacity and awareness in the classroom and following through and expanding this movement into every part of Europe and beyond.”
Disney vice president for technology Una Fox heard about the Coder Dojo last year and started a chapter in LA. Senior VP at Telenet, Martine Temples visited Ireland from Belgium last year and started a chapter in Antwerp this weekend. More than 30 kids have signed up.
The program already boasts success stories. Fourteen year old Harry Moran created the game PizzaBot. The game outstriped Angry Birds last year in the Mac app charts and made him the world’s youngest Mac app creator when he made the game at the young age of twelve. Twelve year old Jordan Casey became one of the world’s young iOS app creators when his first game Green Boy Touch became available in the Apple store last year when he was eleven.